SIENA FOR KIDS

Playtime in Siena at the shady Sant'Agostino playground



No indoor playgrounds or amusement parks, but a car-free historic town center and plenty of spooky medieval alleyways make of Siena a great city to visit with kids. Start the day chasing pigeons on piazza del Campo, throw in a handful of museums, ice cream stops and the world's craziest bareback horse race, and the whole family will want to stay on for the rest of the week. 

PLAYGROUNDS

Piazza del Campo is one of the earliest examples of an urban space designed as a meeting place for every age group. Siena's pensioners soak up the sun, hipster tourists try to blend in with the locals and kids race the square or play hide-and-seek around its famous Renaissance fountain. In case the bars and restaurants around piazza del Campo don't fit your family's travel budget, skip overpriced meals and drinks and just hang out in the middle of the square. In fact, Piazza del Campo is one of the rare examples where Italians actually sit on the ground (on most public squares in Italy sitting or let alone lying down, isn't seen as an educated thing to do). 

Too hot for running around piazza del Campo? A recently restored playground is close by. Walk towards Palazzo Pubblico and enter the La Torre neighborhood from via Salicotto. Take the first road to the left and find a small but lovely playground in Vicolo della Fortuna (it's close to Siena's synagogue - in case you want to have a look). 

For a true Renaissance vibe have your kids race around Siena's Medici fortress on the other side of town (close to Stadio and Fortress parking). With beautiful views towards the town, the fortress is also home of Siena's Jazz School (which you'll hear on a warm day) and most importantly of the beautiful wine bar Enoteca Italiana. In case you were thinking of pairing the playground time with some wine tasting. 

A real favorite of mine are the couple of slides in front of the Sant'Agostino church. Another great view onto Siena and a beautiful shady square to run around. If you get hungry, grab a snack in the lovely Tuscan style food stores in nearby via T. Sarrocchi (or grab a slice of take away pizza at the bakery opposite the church where all the students go) . And fill up your water bottles at the turtle fountain, you're in Tartuca neighborhood after all!

Last but not least also check out the Orto de Pecci option below (under eating out). 

MUSEUMS and SIGHTSEEING with Kids in Siena

No need to worry. Renaissance art is fun to look at with toddlers and teenagers alike. In fact adults will discover many a detail in paintings and frescoes, that would have been easily overlooked without the eager eyes of the little art scouts. 

A great place to start on the art is Siena's civic museum in the Palazzo Pubblico on Piazza del Campo. Streamline your visit and focus on Ambrogio Lorenzetti's fresco cycle in the Sala della Pace (Hall of Peace). The "Allegory of Bad and Good Government in the City and the Countryside" stretches over three walls and isn't just beautiful but also highly instructive - no cartoon would make for a better introduction to everyday life in the Middle Ages than Lorenzetti's detailed painting. Look out for the hunters and shoemakers, the busy bricklayers or the noble bride arriving horseback (we're in the city of the Palio after all!). After that, don't forget to take in the grisly figures that symbolize the effects of bad government. 

Another fresco cycle to marvel at can be found in the Piccolomini Library in Siena's Cathedral. The work of Pintoricchio retells the life of Pope Pius II. Delicate flowers, thundering storms, fancy dresses, fortified cities and imposing merchant ships are being shown in beautifully detailed Renaissance fashion. 

SMS museum: Siena also has a lovely art space specially dedicated to kids at the Santa Maria della Scala museum. Arty and interactive, this is a lovely visit if you have an extra day in town. 

No more frescoes please? Siena's natural history museum (L'Accademia dei Fisiocritici) is close to the Sant'Agostino playground mentioned above and makes for a fabulous place to get a break from anything art. Located in a historic building the museum's lovingly presented collection of stuffed and mounted animals makes for an enjoyable hour or two. But pop in even if you have less time at your disposal. Museum entrance is free after all. 

For details on opening times and ticket prices check the Museums in Siena page. 

Discovering Siena's backroads is an absolute must, whether you travel with or without kids. It's your best bet to see Siena without the tourists and a great way to learn more about the history of the Palio. Have an improvised treasure hunt and try to figure out which one of the 17 official contrade (neighborhoods) you're walking through. The symbols of each contrada (from giraffe and caterpillar to dragon and unicorn) can be spotted in painted and chiseled form on palaces, street signs and fountains of the neighborhood. Private guided tours for families focusing on the Palio can be organized (prices starting from 150€ with a great English speaking licensed Siena guide). Send me an email for more info. 

Getting higher: Kids love to climb, so take them up there. My 6 and 8-year-old always enjoy the steep stairs that lead up to the facade of Siena's never finished New Cathedral (entrance via the OPA museum). The view over the city is amazing and the climb is easier for small children (and their parents) than having to tackle the 87 meters of the Torre del Mangia on Piazza del Campo. Whilst you're in the OPA also take some time to look at Duccio di Buoninsegna's Maestà. A special room is dedicated to this masterpiece and whilst the early Sienese school of painting isn't as easily approachable as later Renaissance works, it's worth taking the time to give it a go and discover the various characters (from soldiers to saints) in the panels retelling some of the bible's best tales. Just tell your kids that Duccio's work was the medieval approach to cartoons and they will enjoy it too.

GUIDE BOOKS for funky parents and clever kids

If you have more than a day in Siena, make sure you buy a good guidebook. I'm a big fan of Explore and Discover Siena; A Guidebook to the City especially for Children. Not on Amazon (yet), the guide can be can be found in most bookstores in Siena or in the museum shops of the SMS and OPA museums. The tourist office on piazza del Campo also has great leaflets and maps with walking routes in Siena designed with kids in mind. If you'd like a guide in e-book form, have a look at my Siena in a Day Guide which was published by Unanchor. 

FOOD: eating out in Siena 

Ice-cream is one of the main ingredients of a holiday with children in Italy. Make sure you skip the overpriced and watery version for tourists and stand in line where the locals do. One of the best ice-cream shops in Siena is GROM. A young Italian chain that produces additive free ice-cream and cares about the environment. Grom is centrally located on Banchi di Sopra (Siena's main shopping road), has a small children's play area in the back and - last but not least - a clean bathroom. 

A picnic with kids is always a fun and cheap lunch option - even in Italy. Fill your basket at Siena's Consorzio Agrario (they do great pizza too) and walk to piazza del Campo for a relaxing and budget conscious meal in the middle of town. Once you've finished your local delicacies, get up and have your coffee at one of the many bars surrounding Tuscany's most beautiful square. Piazza del Campo gets sizzling hot during summer, so wait till the first shade arrives and have an early picnic dinner instead. A good option for a true Tuscan sandwich can also be found right in piazza del Campo at Salumeria il Cencio (number 70), where the kids will probably also enjoy getting up to the bar's small balcony via the iron staircase.  

Looking for a child friendly restaurant in Siena? With good weather the best place I can think of is the pizzeria at Orto de Pecci. The medieval garden is a short walk down the valley from piazza del Campo. Five minutes and you're in the midst of the Tuscan countryside with a great view onto the town. This is where the Sienese 'walk' their children, celebrate birthday parties or just have a slice of pizza on a warm summer night. The pizzeria is open from Tuesday to Sunday at lunch time, but only on Friday/Saturday night (on reservation on other nights). They close the access gate to the park once the bar/restaurant closes in the evening - so be sure you're not left behind! 

For a healthy hamburger (they exist!), visit Siena's birreria Diana. The meat and all other ingredients are locally sourced and mostly organic and you can have a tasty lunch with the whole family in the middle of the afternoon. See my Best restaurants in Siena article for more info on this nice and off-the-beaten path option for an affordable lunch.  

In regard to other eating out options, remember you're in Italy, a country where kids are always welcome. There are no special children's menus but every restaurant will be happy to prepare a simple plate of pasta in bianco (pasta without sauce for fuzzy eaters like my daughter) or with tomato or meat sauce (called sugo or ragù) for your youngsters. If anything skip the upper-class venues with starched table clothes and stay with the simpler pizzerias and trattorias in town. However, remember that restaurants in Italy have fixed lunch and dinner hours. You won't find any warm food from about 2.30 pm to 7 pm. If you want to nibble something in between, Il Grattacielo is a fun place to visit for a bite to eat (grattacielo means skyscraper - tell your kids that one, once you're there). 

SHOPPING for kids in Siena

TOYS: Il Paese Dei Balocchi (via dei Termini, 4) is a small toy store with a great selection of drums, flags and riding helmets in the Palio infused colors of Siena's 17 contrade (neighborhoods). Unlike Lego and Playmobil, these are things that can't be found back home. 

CLOTHES: Benetton, Tezenis (underwear and pajamas) and Calzedonia (socks,  tights and swim wear) have good selections of unexpensive children clothes. 
Mazzuoli bimbi right of piazza del Campo isn't a cheap choice, but the place to go if you were thinking of a pair of Italian shoes to take home for the little ones. 


BOOKS: In case you left your Kindle at home, bookshop Libreria Senese has a small selection of books for children in English. The store also has a wide selection of Tuscany guide books. 



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Cruising more of Tuscany with children in tow? Read my Kids in Florence guide if you plan to visit the museums of the city of the Renaissance, or explore the countryside with my Fun for Kids in Southern Tuscany guide. 
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